Helen Kelley Whitaker was in awe as she stood watching family and friends gaze at a historical railroad monument honoring her late grandmother, Mary Ellen Arrington Kelley.
It was a day that Mrs. Whitaker had been waiting more than 20 years for.
"I wanted the day to be perfect, just perfect as we remembered my grandmother," said Mrs. Whitaker as she wiped tears from her eyes after the special ceremony in southern McDuffie County on Saturday. "I can't believe so many family members showed up. It was wonderful, just wonderful."
The ceremony, which drew more than 60 people, mostly relatives, also commemorated the old Goodrich Railroad that passed through some of the property once owned by Mrs. Kelley's father, James David Bailey Arrington, off Kelley Road near Dearing. The old coal-burning locomotive moved loads of timber through that area of McDuffie County and into Warren County from 1875 until 1886.
A park honoring Mrs. Kelley and the Goodrich Railroad now sits alongside Kelley Road, just a short distance from the family's old home place. The park is showcased by a black marble sign, depicting a coal-burning train pulling logs from the property once owned by Mrs. Kelley. The artist also etched into the work a man standing near the train with a little girl on his shoulders. There are also two marble park benches. The area is nicely landscaped with planted shrubbery. The area leading to the monument from the dirt road is graveled.
"That was my grandmother on the shoulders of her daddy, looking at the train for the first and only time she ever saw it," said Mrs. Whitaker during an exclusive interview with The McDuffie Mirror . "I thought it was so special that the artist included it on the monument. It just added so much to it. It's just the way I wanted it to turn out -- so special for my grandmother, whom I loved so very much."
As for the park's looks, Mrs. Whitaker said she couldn't be more pleased.
"This is exactly what I wanted it to look like for my grandmother," said Mrs. Whitaker, noting that her husband, W.L., had supported her 100 percent in funding the project. "She was perfect, and I wanted this to be perfect to honor her."
Mrs. Kelley, who also was affectionately known as "Miss Dinky," was the person "who made the greatest impact on me with her footprint," said Mrs. Whitaker.
"She was a blessing to everyone, whether they ever met her or not, because of the woman she was and the way she lived her life. She loved the Lord and was a faithful servant."
Mrs. Kelley, who acquired the property from her father back in 1921, was a longtime member of Fort Creek Baptist Church. In the winter, she left her home and walked to the church to light the fire so the church would be warm for morning worship services.
Mrs. Kelley passed away in 1953 at the age of 74.
Mrs. Whitaker's first cousin, Sammy Luckey Jr., a Thomson businessman, welcomed those who attended the historical ceremony.
"This is a special day in our lives," said Mr. Luckey. "We're here to commemorate the life of our grandmother. She was quite a woman. I remember playing up and down the railroad tracks when I was a boy. I have a lot of special memories of my grandmother."
Mrs. Kelley "was a very giving woman," added Mr. Luckey, one of seven grandchildren who attended and participated in the ceremony honoring his grandmother.
Kelley Wood, now 83, another grandchild, fondly remembered Mrs. Kelley, too.
"She took me in when I was just a baby," said Mr. Wood. "She raised me until I was 17 and joined the Navy. When I returned, she took me right back in her arms."
Mr. Wood compared his grandmother to an angel.
"If God ever had an angel on this earth, it was her," he emphasized. "She was the country doctor down here."